Alumni Profiles

In addition to pursuing advanced degrees in the life sciences, Hiram grads work in government, research, education, and big business. Here's what some Hiram graduates have done with their biology educations.

Elizabeth Arps 2010

I attained a B.A. in Biology from Hiram College in 2010, during which I worked at the James H. Barrow Biological Field Station caring for endangered waterfowl. During my time at Hiram, I also interned at animal shelters and sanctuaries, and traveled abroad extensively [Guatemala & Biomes: Around the World], all of which broadened my interest in studying a wide variety of animal welfare issues. I was able to explore those interests as I pursued a M.S. in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2011, where my thesis focused on the effects of a local dog breed-specific ordinance. I also spent time volunteering at feral cat clinics and with orphaned wildlife through the school’s wildlife rehabilitation clinic. I am delighted to have recently joined the National Canine Research Council, where I can apply my background in science and policy.

Jodi Craigo Steckbeck 1992

After graduating from Hiram I received my Ph.D. in Cellular & Molecular Virology from Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine/Kent State University.  I then relocated to Pittsburgh to pursue a PostDoc in HIV/lentivirus research.  I am currently an Associate Professor in the department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh. Additionally I serve as the Research Manager for the University's Center for Vaccine Research where I coordinate the usage of all research space as well as manage the technical and research support core facilities. Broadly, my research focuses on the humoral immune response to lentiviral infections. Primarily, we develop experimental vaccines in an effort to understand the interplay between the host immune response and viral evolution that is reflected by high levels of viral genomic diversity. Here we provided the first experimental evidence that the genetic distance between vaccine and challenge strain envelope proteins directly correlates with protection from disease (Craigo, et al. (2007) PNAS 104:15105-15110). Additionally, I am working to understand how quantitative differences in kinetic rates of antibody:antigen binding can be used to inform immunogen design for the development of more effective vaccines.

Rob Carey '98

After finishing my degree at Hiram, I pursued my lifelong dream of going to medical school. I loathed medical school. So I dropped out. After a short period of confusion, I decided to attend grad school at Penn State. Instead of medicine, I begin a research project in Dr. Daniel J. Cosgrove's lab studying the molecular evolution of a large superfamily of plant proteins called expansins. This is when the value of my broad education in biology from Hiram became apparent. I am not sure that students from large research institutions could have made this fairly drastic change.  While seeking a lab for graduate study, the enthusiasm of Dr. Matt Hils for nonvascular plants, of Dr. Prudy Hall for molecular biology, and the emphasis on evolutionary biology across the biology curriculum at Hiram played important roles in my decision.  I couldn't be happier with the outcome.  After earning my Ph.D. from Penn State in 2006, I taught at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs, WY for four years.  I enjoyed the work, but the experiences I had at Hiram made me want to be involved with a similar institution.  I was fortunate to land an Assistant Professorship at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA for fall of 2010.  I am continuing my research on the molecular evolution of gene families in nonvascular (and other "basal") plants.  Hiram prepared me for a career in the biological sciences, but has impacted my life in many other ways as well.  The opportunity to study abroad and the marvelous classes I took outside the biology department all have left their impression.

Email Rob at

Adam Ewing '05

Adam has just completed all the requirements for his Ph.D. degree in the Genomics and Computational Biology department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.  He has moved on to a postdoctoral research position in the Kazazian Lab in the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.  He writes...

"My thesis title is "The role of L1 retrotransposition in human genomic variability".

At Hopkins I'll be working on a few projects that are extensions of my thesis work. Primarily I will be developing high-throughput genotyping methods aimed at using retrotransposon insertion polymorphisms (RIPs) in genome-wide association studies (GWASs). Because there are a few active families of retrotransposable elements in the human genome, new copies are polymorphic in human populations with respect to their presence or absence at various loci making then useful genetic markers. Most current GWASs use SNPs or CNVs as markers for disease association, and we hope to extend this to include RIPs as well. To this end we have obtained two NIH challenge grants, one to study prostate cancer susceptibility using RIP-GWAS and another to do the same with a cohort affected by familial autism. For the autism study we're also going to use a method we developed (Ewing and Kazazian, Genome Research 2010) to see there is an increase in de novo retrotranposon insertions in affected individuals relative to an unaffected cohort.

If that's a little too long-winded/dense it would suffice to say that I study human genomic variation due to retrotransposition events by developing genome-wide ascertainment strategies.

I owe a lot to Hiram in terms of what I'm doing and what I'd like to be going in the future. The summer research experiences with Brad [Goodner] and those I did elsewhere through Hiram connections were invaluable preparation for grad school, as were the projects I was involved in through several courses. Hiram has a great environment for students with interdisciplinary interests due in part to its small size and highly available faculty with diverse backgrounds."

Email Adam at

Lucas Tomko '07

During my time at Hiram, I was focusing mostly on gaining animal experience in order to pursue a career as a DVM. I worked for about two years at the James H. Barrow field station on the animal care and grounds maintenance staff, but also assisted in several ongoing ecological research projects. In between my sophomore and junior years of study, I was able to study ancient cetacean bone morphology and histology with Dr. Sandra Madar, an experience that would ultimately prime my indecision about a professional vs. more academic career. I also was able to intern at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center under Dr. Esther van der Knaap, a contact of Hiram professor Dr. Brad Goodner, working on a developmental biology project in tomato fruits. After graduation, I pursued gaining more experience in the veterinary field as a veterinary technician for 3 years before realizing that my true passion was in discovering new and better therapies or targets for therapies of conditions that were being diagnosed on a daily basis through my job. Currently, I am just beginning my PhD tract at the University of Wisconsin Madison in the Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology department, a program focused on understanding biological mechanisms and signaling pathways that occur in disease states and generating novel approaches to disrupt disease or abnormality causing pathways.

Chris Distel '02

Chris received a MS in aquatic ecology at Eastern Kentucky University, then went on to complete a Ph.D. from Miami of Ohio in 2009, and is now an assistant professor at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas where he's teaching a variety of courses in zoology.  He sends the following information:

"I've been at Schreiner since August in the Biology department of the Trull School of Sciences and Mathematics.  Schreiner is a small, liberal arts university in Kerrville, Texas and is not unlike Hiram in its size and scope.  My position here is new this year, and is not a replacement for previous faculty.  I am the resident field biologist, with a particular focus on increasing the visibility of field biology at the university as an alternative to pre-professional programs.  In fact, field biology here is one of three signature programs (new this year) that students may choose to pursue.  We now have two tracks within the biology major (one environmental, and one cellular), and are offering several exciting new courses, including field ecology, conservation biology, and rotating systematics courses of the four major vertebrate groups.  Another significant focus of my position is to increase the profile of undergraduate research at SU, particularly in field biology.  While we haven't nailed down the projects yet for next year's field season, I do have a solid group of ambitious students who are interested in participating.  Most likely a good portion of this work will focus on amphibian conservation, which was at the heart of my doctoral dissertation at Miami U (publications below).  My website (still under construction) is also linked below."

  • Distel, CA, and MD Boone. In press. Pesticide has asymmetric effects on two tadpole species across density gradient. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
  • Bulen, BJ, and CA Distel. In press. Carbaryl concentration gradients in realistic environments and their influence on our understanding of the tadpole food web. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.
  • Distel, CA, and MD Boone. 2010. Effects of aquatic exposure to the insecticide carbaryl are species-specific across life stages and mediated by heterospecific competitors in anurans. Functional Ecology 24:1342-1352.
  • Webber, N, MD Boone, and CA Distel. 2010. Effects of aquatic and terrestrial carbaryl exposure on feeding ability, growth, and survival of American toads. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 29:2323-2327.
  • Distel, CA, and MD Boone. 2009. Effects of aquatic exposure to the insecticide carbaryl and competition on aquatic and terrestrial growth and survival in American toads. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 28:1963-1969.

Assistant Professor of Biology, Trull School of Sciences and Mathematics, Schreiner University

http://faculty.schreiner.edu/cadistel/

Sarah Douglas '93

"I might be able to be a resource for biology students that weren't sure what they could do with a biology degree outside of going to grad school in a basic field of study. I know that I wasn't really sure what to do after graduation, but somehow found my way. . . ."

After my degree at Hiram I worked at Case Western Reserve University for a while, trying to decide just what to study in grad school. I finally found this great discipline called food science and finished my master's degree at Cornell in 1997. What amazed me was that because of the combo of my degree at Hiram - the science core and the liberal arts - and the two years of work experience I had, I was accepted at every school I applied to and was able to get really good funding. My grad advisor, Kathryn Boor, is an amazing woman and scientist (hmmm, I see a pattern here!) and has been recognized as one of the key young researchers in her field. Her lab does a lot of work with food safety, on a molecular level and on food spoilage on a microbial and molecular level. I was one of her first students and the work that I did was the starting point for a whole line of research for the lab. Some of the undergraduates that worked for me, stayed on in the lab and did their graduate degrees, building on the work we were doing for my thesis.

I can't tell you how much I connect with being a food scientist. All the great science, in such a practical way. I couldn't have found an area of science that is more fascinating. Plus, it is a career field with a lot of options for someone with a master's degree. I have been working in my field for about 6 years now, focusing on product development. I spent the first five at M&M Mars in New Jersey doing product development on the Starburst and Skittles product lines. In the end, I was the core scientist responsible for new development and maintenance of products worth $300-million in product sales. My family got bragging rights that I created the new flavors for Starburst and "invented" mint Skittles! I've traveled all over the world and have gotten some great exposure to business, engineering, and processing of consumer goods.

After five years with Mars, it was time to try some new challenges. For the past year, I have been the product development manager for Godiva Chocolatier (in Pennsylvania). A completely different world, but one that is still very exciting. I'm a manager now, so my job is that great mix of strategy and function. It is definitely a skill to know how to balance both! Working for a much smaller company and with premium chocolate is amazing. One of my great joys is that I create products that make people happy - and I can use them to show how science touches everyone's life, everyday. Being such a science nerd, I sometimes just shake my head in amazement that people don't know that much about the science happening right in their world. Don't they know that is what makes life so interesting?

Jodi Creasap '00

Recipient of 2002 Toepfer Scholarship

Hiram alumna, Class of 2000, went to Germany on the Toepfer scholarship awarded by the Alexander von Humbolt award for Agriculture, a German foundation. She worked at the University of Technology in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt. The lab in which she worked studies Agrobacterium tumefaciens (closely related to A. vitis, the grape plant pathogen she's been studying), and she used some of their techniques to help determine which cells in grape woody tissue are susceptible to transformation by A. vitis.

Kathleen Lacasse '01

Entered Ph.D. program in ecology at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2001
"Hiram's biology program gave me a very broad background as well as ample hands-on experience. The study abroad classes in New Zealand and Costa Rica were eye-opening and inspiring. Looking back, I am amazed at how much I learned and how much I changed during my four years at Hiram!"

Bryan Swindell '01

Bureau of Land Management, Idaho

Bryan landed a field assistant position for the Bureau of Land Management, Upper Snake River District in South Central Idaho. "I used the skills I acquired at Hiram, GIS/GPS for mapping "fuel loads" for land management and wildlife management."

Richard Blatchford '01 Psychobiology

International Crane Foundation


Aaron Harnar '01 Biochemistry

Developed the "Harnar Process" to produce biodisel fuel simply and cost effectively
Aaron developed this process while working on an independent research project in his senior year at Hiram. He was originally studying the biochemistry of ethanol. "I have always been interested in the idea of biofuel" he said, "and couldn't figure out why ethanol couldn't be produced in a more cost efficient way. I didn't really know too much about biodiesel when I started this. I was looking for a clue to producing cheaper ethanol." Aaron was invited to the farm bureau national convention in Reno, Nevada to showcase his idea. To find out more about the process, contact Aaron at .

Chris Moeller '95 Field Biology

Firefighting specialist based in Arizona

Chris spends forest fire season battling blazes in Arizona, Utah, California, and Southern Carolina. In the off-season, he cycles around the country, and teaches scuba diving in Guatemala and white water rafting in West Virginia and Costa Rica. He received his master's degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham after he spent two field seasons under the ice in Antarctica. His advice to wanna-be biologists? "Sit in the woods for a few days and realize how boring it is. If you still love it, you're field biologist material."

Danielle Rastetter '94 Biology

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, 1998, the Ohio State University

"My life has take turns I dreamed of at Hiram College and some that I never even foresaw. One reason I chose Hiram was because of its graduates' high acceptance rate into veterinary medicine. In 1998, I earned my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Ohio State University. Many people helped me achieve that dream – family, friends from high school and Hiram College, and the faculty of Hiram College. It was actually difficult making a transition to such a focused program of study as veterinary medicine after the liberal arts curriculum of Hiram College. I missed delving into side interests, as I was able to at Hiram College.

While I am passionate about veterinary medicine, I have also found another passion. Hiram College fosters a desire to look beyond one's own world, to help others, to create order in a world of chaos, to educate, and to take action. I put those principles to work in 1997 when I created a listserver, Network for Overcoming Increased Silence Effectively (NOISE) that allows medical professionals with hearing losses to communicate in a way not previously available. We share our solutions, our problems, our joys, and our tears. NOISE led to contacts that eventually established a non-profit organization in the year 2000, the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses (www.amphl.org). AMPHL had its inaugural conference in June 2001, which was huge success with over 70 attendees.

Hiram College holds a special place in my memories. So many memories bring a smile to my face – studying in Booth/Centennial lounge and talking to passer-bys, challenging classes that widened my vision, visiting friends, Phi Gam and Phi Beta parties, the faculty, and the satisfaction of learning. I know my education was superior and I want the same for my son, Tamir. I have to thank the faculty and friends who contributed to such a good experience and to establishing the lessons of life and learning which helped me achieve so much in my life. These lessons will help me guide my son and thus create a better world for him."

Mary Garvin '84 Biology

Assistant professor of biology, Oberlin College. Chair, Oberlin mosquito-control project

"From the time I was little, I collected insects. I remember my grandmother scolding me for playing with bugs.... At Hiram, I played with bugs and look where it led!"

Willa Schrlau '78 Biology

Laboratory instructor, Hiram College

Willa began teaching at Hiram in 1999. In addition to teaching labs for our introductory biology sequence, Willa is also an adjunct faculty member in the Weekend College biology program.

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